Tech

How COVID-19 has changed IT’s focus and plans for 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic – and the lockdowns that followed last spring – wrought changes across IT operations and strategy as businesses and employees adjusted to a new environment. But what changes were made, and which ones are likely to last?

Spiceworks Ziff Davis, a B2B tech marketplace, polled 1,073 IT buyers in North America and Europe in June and July 2020 to find out. The results in its 2021 State of IT report, released today, show that the pandemic-fueled transformation will continue, affecting both planning and budgets for the long term.

The survey shows that 76% of businesses envision long-term IT changes, with more than half planning to retain flexible work policies (such as remote work); 64% of companies enabled remote work in 2020 due to the pandemic.

How IT budgets will change

IT budgets at 46% of companies are expected to remain flat in 2021, while 33% exect to increase spending and 17% expect budget declines – essentially double the 8% who had expected budgets to decline this year when surveyed in 2019. (The remaining 4% did not know if their budgets would change in 2021.) Overall, budgets are expected to decline, with the size of the cuts surpassing spending increases by the 33%.

European and North America firms had the same percentage expecting increases (33%), but North American firms were more likely to expect declines than European ones, 21% vs. 12%. The largest companies were more likely to expect budget cuts (24%) and less likely to expect increases (28%) than the average.

Hardware spending will remain the biggest component of IT budgets, but will decline as part of a shift from the data center to the cloud and managed services. Hardware spending was already dropping, from 35% in 2019 to an expected 31% in 2021. Cloud and hosted services’ share of IT budgets are moving in the opposite direction, from 21% last year to an expected 24% in 2021. Software budgets are expected to stay flat at 29% compared to 2020. Enterprises will spend more on cloud (27%) than the average, and less on hardware (25%) and software (26%) than the average.

The top areas of investment will be in bread-and-butter IT areas, essentially modernizing work processes. For example, 36% plan to improve IT operations and systems performance; 33% expect to improve security and governance; 32% plan to deploy standardized tools to connect employees; 30% plan to provide training aids to remote employees; and 27% want to refine their disaster recovery plans to accommodate additional scenarios.

Investments in emerging and cutting-edge technologies will drop significantly, as the focus changes to more immediate, proven needs. Efforts on digital transformation will increase at 44% of firms, but “digital transformation” in this context means adopting digital technologies for highly analog processes – adopting proven technology systems– not bringing in cutting-edge innovations.

The technology innovation trends that IT buyers do expect to adopt are mainly long-standing ones:

A third of planned increases in 2021 IT budgets are influenced by the pandemic, particularly involving communications tools, infrastructure, and security. For companies expecting to increase budgets, upgrading outdated IT infrastructure, getting IT projects done more quickly, addressing security concerns, addressing changes brought by the pandemic, and supporting remote work are major drivers for 2021.

How IT’s focus shifted as the pandemic unfolded

In March 2020, during the height of the adjustments required as COVID-19 related  lockdowns became common, these techn areas got more attention from IT buyers: video conferencing, VDI, firewalls, network monitoring, communications systems, and collaboration tools.

And in May and June, a holding pattern developed, with no new strong drivers of IT attenion.

The focus shifted dramatically to security by June, after the initial efforts to respond to the crisis were in place. Endpoint device security is the top security-related concern for remote-work efforts, cited by 55% of respondents.

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